East Bay Massage: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Physical demands at work have changed over time as positions become more and more specialized. With the aide of computers and other technological advances, fewer movements are necessary to complete tasks as compared to just a generation ago. The incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome increased 300% between 1982 and 1992 (those numbers are pretty old– I wonder what they are now, in 2011??). And women are three times as likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome. Whoa!

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve which innervates the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and half of the ring finger becomes impinged. Symptoms include tingling, burning, shooting pain, numbness, and weakness as the median nerve is unable to carry messages to the area. If left unchecked, carpal tunnel syndrome can lead to permanent nerve damage, which causes loss of muscle function and numbness in the hand. Yikes!

Massage can help to eleveate the symptoms and causes of carpal tunnel syndrome. If the root cause of the nerve impingement is due to edema (or swelling) in the hand, massage can help to encourage fluids to drain back into the forearm. Occasionally, the carpal tunnel bones (small bones at the wrist that in fact create a small channel through which the nerve and tendons travel) get out of whack. While a massage therapist is not trained in chiropractic extremity adjustments, the bones often find their own way back into place if the tissues are properly attended to. Hypertrophy, or the enlargement of a structure due to overuse, is the most common cause of carpal tunnel syndrome. In this case, the tendons of the wrist may enlarge with overuse, irritating other surrounding structures passing through the carpal tunnel, like the median nerve. Massage in this instance may help in reducing inflammation of these surrounding structures.

It is important to also note that the wrist is part of a larger picture– the human body in its totality. Oftentimes, carpal tunnel syndrome-like symptoms can be related to neck, shoulder, or pectoral issues or nerve impingement elsewhere in the arm. A massage therapist will address the body as a whole. In this way, other possible contributing conditions will be accounted for.

If you think you may have carpal tunnel syndrome, check with your doctor, then get in for a massage right away! Massage can help to reduce symptoms and may help you avoid surgery for the condition.

I’m getting off this computer right now! Thank you, wrists!

Thank *you* for visiting East Bay Massage!

East Bay Massage: Working with Teen Mothers with Touch Health, or How a Fortune Cookie Saved My Butt

I read the tiny white banner from the fortune cookie: A delay is better than a disaster.

I had felt that whatever was going to be inside this cookie was going to be a message just for me from the universe. I had taken the paper, stuck it in my pocket, and walked to the bathroom. I stood in the powder room with the fan on– in case I started to cry, I didn’t want anyone to hear. After I had read it, I stuck the paper between my teeth as I checked to see. Voila. My period had started. Finally.

I was 16 and in a world of trouble. But my world had just been restored, regaining its balance from an orbit that had threatened to spin out of control. The universe had thrown me a bone– a second chance! What I had once imagined as the potential shackles of premature motherhood faded away like a ghost in a graveyard. I was left stunned by my good fortune.

There but for fortune go you or I– that’s what I kept thinking as I looked at the class of teen mothers. Some of the mothers in this class were barely teenagers. Some affected the cool disinterest characteristic of any teenager. At the risk of sounding condescending, these mothers were really still children in a lot of ways, themselves. Everyday, they brought their newborns, infants, or toddlers (some with more than one child) to the center where they could leave their babies in the hands of an on-site day care provider while they worked towards their GED. Many of these families were rooted in a culture where it is not unusual to spank or hit children, and where violence was not uncommon on the street or in the home.

Studies have shown that children who grow up in families that use touch for discipline (ranging from spanking to physical abuse) are more likely to grow up to be violent adults. Children who grow up in families that express appropriate physical affection are far less likely to grow in to violent offenders. This may seem like a logical extrapolation, but the implications are far-reaching. Especially when we consider that ‘getting a whooping,’ while perhaps more unusual for this generation, is not such a far-removed consequence for ‘unacceptable’ behavior even just one generation before us. And, sadly, there are those of us who have experienced physical abuse at the hands of our loved ones– the very ones who should be our protectors.

Working with teen mothers seemed like a great way to help to break the cycle of violence. And for me to serve a community that I very nearly belonged, to, myself. By giving these young women a skill– the ability to use touch in a way that soothes, comforts, and fosters the bond between parent and child– there exists the potential for a new way of being and maybe a new way to approach the enormous danger that violence presents in our communities. A way of approaching the problem before it actually starts, through the hands of a mother.

One Friday afternoon, I was providing chair massage to the moms before teaching them how to use vigorous massage to help their sleepy toddlers wake up in the morning. One mom came in to my chair for her massage, and I remember her very clearly. I felt a lot of hope when I worked with her because she looked me in the eye, and at least gave me the satisfaction of pretending she was listening to what I was saying. We had a brief conversation about how toddlers can be so challenging and how she sometimes felt tempted to smack her child (don’t judge too harshly– if you are a parent, you know what she was talking about). I encouraged her to find other ways of engaging with touch with her child– ways that would foster calm, peace, and comfort. And then I tried to show her what I meant by giving her a massage.

The next day, this mom was killed in a side show in Oakland.

It’s hard to express the feeling I had– this person was literally in my hands the day before. And now, she was gone, and her son, motherless. I felt that a great potential had left the world– I felt that this mom, still so very young at 16, had fallen into the gears of a culture of violence that I have only begun to imagine. I fear that in trying to educate her about how she might be with her son, I somehow failed in expressing how she might be with her self.

Working with teen moms was a terrific experience for me– I am grateful for the time I spent with these exceptional young women and their precious children. Maybe we can’t save everyone or fix everything, but if we start at the beginning, at the most basic level, touch, we will begin to see the change we want in the world. Or at least touch the change, if even only briefly.

If you are interested in helping teen moms in the East Bay, consider volunteering your massage services with Touch Health or donating to this very worthy cause. If we begin to consider how touch effects us from the time even before we are born, we might come to a new understanding of how touch can help heal our communities.

Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage! Arms are for hugging!

East Bay Massage: Esalen

Although I practice a variety of bodywork modalities, Esalen massage was the first of my training and has influenced the way I perceive massage. Here is a little article I wrote on the basics of Esalen bodywork:

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In the book Job’s Body, author Deane Juhan tells us something important about the fundamental approach of Esalen bodywork. He explains:

Bodywork… is a kind of sensorimotor education, rather than a treatment or a procedure… I must enter into an active relationship with [the client]. The bodyworker is not attacking a localized problem; (s)he is carefully generating a flow of sensory information to the mind of the client… It is the mind of the client that does the fixing.

This passage speaks to me both as a massage therapist and as a recipient of massage. I believe it clarifies a fundamentally flawed attitude that massage therapists, health educators, and recipients occasionally bring to their sessions. “Fix me!” is a plea that I hear on a weekly if not daily basis from my clients who come to me with excruciating nerve pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, migraines, and injuries. I have to check my ego quickly as I feel my massage therapist super-hero cape unfurling behind me in a promise of ease, health, and recovery.

Have you ever felt like you needed to “power through” a painful bodywork session? Do you believe in “no pain, no gain?” Worse yet, have you ever felt brutalized by an over-zealous massage practitioner who wouldn’t listen to you when you asked for less pressure? Have you ever been bruised after a massage?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, I suggest you consider this: It is the mind of the client that does the fixing. In pleading with another to “fix” us, we not only give away the power we each contain inherently in our own bodies to heal, we assign the responsibility to someone else who is not capable of fulfilling our request.

Esalen massage is foundationally a relationship. It teaches us how to approach each other through touch by allowing for the greatest space and respect– listening to each client’s body and its assortment of protected postures, injuries, and narratives. You may not realize it, but when you take a deep breath during a massage, if you get goosebumps, if your eyelids flutter, your Esalen massage therapist notices and acknowledges it as permission to move deeper or as encouragement to linger.

It should not be miscontrued, however, that Esalen massage lacks depth of pressure. A session with an Esalen massage therapist will introduce varied depth of pressure, and when it is needed, the pressure does engage the deepest layers of muscle and fascia and includes stretching and other techniques unique to Esalen massage (more on that in the following paragraph!). The important distinction is that the client’s body is always in charge, because it is the client who will ultimately either let go of tension and stress, or retain them. It is not within the massage therapist’s scope or capacity to foist a ‘release’ upon the client. Clients should also always bear in mind that the session is in their honor; the client is in control, and if at any time any thing does not feel right for any reason, it is always encouraged to speak up right away. Massage therapists are often intuitive people who enjoy helping others feel better, but might not be able to read your mind.

During an Esalen session, you will no doubt experience what has been deemed Esalen’s trademark technique. The Long Stroke, aptly named, begins at the foot, flows up the leg, hip, glutes, back, neck and shoulder, and then travels down the arm and hand, connects to the hip and leg and finishes as it exits at the foot. The entire body is contacted, the entire body is re-membered. Imagine how an injured shoulder seems to scream for all your attention, and your nervous system seems able to hear only it. Much the way we are able to focus on one specific task amid a melee of other sensory input, the most urgent message is often heard the clearest. The Long Stroke effects the nervous system by integrating the parts of the whole– and even as the massage therapist stops to work with the loudest complainer in detailed work, it is encompassed again in the totality of the body through the Long Stroke.

If the client’s body is ready to let go of the pain resulting from the injury, it will do so as it is integrated with the rest of the body– supported by the massage therapist, but not due to her.

Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage!

East Bay Massage: Migraines and Headaches

One of the most common complaints I hear from clients is their frustration with neck pain and related headaches. If you suffer from migraines, tension headaches, or even occasional headaches without a clear trigger, you understand how frustrating it can be when they won’t go away.

Headaches can feel mysterious and inexplicable– what causes them? when will it go away? why are some so debilitating? Here’s a basic over view of the different kinds of headaches, and how bodywork and Craniosacral Therapy (CST) can help.

Migraines are the biggest and baddest of the bunch. If you’ve ever had one, you know! Apart from the severe pain they can cause, oftentimes in an arc stemming from the base of the skull and around the ear to settle behind one of the eyes, migraines can cause confusing symptoms. Light sensitivity, sound sensitivity, nausea, and even a metallic taste in the mouth are all common symptoms associated with migraines. Some even experience visual distortions or an eerie sense of disconnection with reality (commonly referred to “Alice in Wonderland Syndrome”). Children occasionally will experience  migraines not as a pain in the head, but as a stomach ache which in later years surfaces as a traditional migraine.

Migraines occur when blood vessels in the brain become dilated (vasodilation)– typically due to the sympathetic nervous system’s stress response (fight or flight), food allergies, or some other chemical reaction. They occur when the body is under stress, whether the stressor is known to the sufferer or not, frustratingly. Tracking one’s diet can help to identify if there is a food allergy trigger.

Migraines are often treated with medication, sometimes to of little avail. Bodywork can serve an important role in decreasing the frequency of migraines and help the sufferer cope with the discomfort.

Tension Headaches are perhaps the most common type of headache. They too can start at the base of the skull and spread in an arc around the head. They typically occur when there is muscle tension in the cervical spine or neck area. This can be due to a number of factors– if cervical vertebrae are out of alignment, nerve conductivity can be compromised or pinched. The muscles surrounding the vertebrae can become accustomed to supporting the neck in misalignment and may need to be encouraged to relax to allow the spine to find its balance again. Muscle tension is contagious– once the neck is tight, the scalp often responds in kind, expanding the area of contraction around the skull. Secondly, stress can encourage certain postures in the body– raised shoulders, shoulders that rotate forward, neck tension, or a furrowed brow are all common physical postures of stress. Amazingly, it is possible to assume these postures so frequently that they become the way we exist on our bodies, over time. Improving posture can go a long way in helping to reduce tension headaches.

Combination Headaches are fittingly a combination of these two kinds of headache. Muscular tension can result as a complication of the discomfort associated with vasodilation in the brain. If a sufferer is prone to these headaches, (s)he knows that typically the tension headache kicks it all off, and the migraines seems to develop in response to the pain.

How can bodywork help with headaches?

I have found a combination of techniques to be most effective in helping clients cope with headaches and even decreasing the frequency with which headaches occur. Massaging the upper shoulders, neck, scalp, and face helps these muscles which are in contraction to let go. Physically addressing any knots or impingements helps to free these muscles up, but the oxytocin produced during massage also soothes the body into relaxation. Relaxation is therapeutic! Stretching muscles which are overtaxed due to stress-posturing goes a long way, too.

CST plays a key role in helping relieve migraine or headache symptoms. I suspect that vasodilation and muscle tension can both contribute to compression of the cranial bones and tax the brain’s membranes. Helping the occipital base (the back of the neck where it meets with the skull) to regain mobility, as well as the temporal bones (the ones at the sides of the head where the ears are) can have near-magical effects. It has been my experience that CST is an important component to managing headaches and migraines. Sometimes, simply allowing the time and space for therapeutic relaxation has surprising healing effects.

Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage!

East Bay Massage: Diabetes and Massage

It is estimated that 18 million Americans have diabetes, or roughly 6% of the population. Diabetes rates have increased 600% over the last forty years (and no, I didn’t make a type-o). The rise of obesity in addition to the increase propensity for sedentary lifestyles are at least one big part of the reason for the rise of Diabetes. While Diabetes can be categorized into Type 1 and Type 2, this article handles only Type 2 Diabetes and how massage can help.

What happens when you have Type 2 Diabetes? This disorder involves the way in which the pancreas and the insulin it produces function within the body. Typically, a diet high in carbohydrates and fats wears out the pancreas over time, and causes its insulin-producing cells to become less efficient. Sometimes, these cells may be functioning within normal limits but are overwhelmed by high glucose levels. For others, the cells that would normally receive insulin have fewer receptors, making insulin absorption inefficient. First symptoms include abnormally increased urination, thirstiness, excessive hunger, and weight loss. This last symptom may be surprising, but the reason for it is logical– Diabetes is a metabolic disorder, so when the body is not metabolizing food normally, cells become overwhelmed, cease functioning properly, and are as a result, ironically starved for nutrients.

The good news is that Type 2 Diabetes can be controlled with diet and exercise, though sometimes insulin injections are needed to keep the disease under control. Massage can be an important part of an diabetic’s overall healthcare regime, but can also play a vital part in managing some complications often resulting from Type 2 Diabetes.

One common complication is cardiovascular disease due to diet– for diabetics, plaque that would be restricted to the heart in other patients is distributed systemically throughout the body. Pause for a moment and consider what that really means:

Edema in the extremities (think swelling ankles and feet) occurs often due to sluggish circulation caused by occlusion of all the body’s vessels. Poor circulation is at the root of other very serious complications for diabetics– ulcers, gangrene, and amputations are unfortunately not uncommon when Diabetes is not kept under control. When blood flow is impaired, vital nutrients and white blood cells are not able to reach injured tissues. In this way, a small scrape on a diabetic’s foot can become a life threatening condition. Kidney disease due to occlusion of renal vessels, impaired vision due to thickening of the eye’s capillaries, and neuropathy, or nerve damage due to excess sugar in the blood, are also all common complications when Diabetes goes unmanaged.

With the diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes on the rise as fast as it is, what can massage do to help?

It should first be noted that the best course of action is to avoid Type 2 Diabetes in the first place through a healthy diet and regular, moderate exercise. Still only 12% of all diabetics actually control the disease effectively enough to prevent the above-mentioned complications.

Massage improves circulation in everyone– a person with decreased circulation benefits from manually moving the body’s fluids around the systems. However, it must be noted that a person with advanced complications of Diabetes should avoid massage if they have kidney failure or atherosclerosis (heart blockages). Asking the body to increase the volume of fluids it can process when it is already over-taxed is contraindicated. However, massage can help to relieve fluid tension and may assist the body in repairing nerve damage. A massage therapist is also in a unique position to notice wounds on the feet which a diabetic client may not realize are there. Lastly, any time a diabetic client receives massage, they should test their glucose levels before and after the massage. Massage naturally lowers blood sugar levels by promoting circulation and relaxation. A low-blood sugar incident (‘crashing’) is a significant risk for any diabetic, so it is important to understand how massage fits in with their diet plan for the day.

Diabetics can benefit two-fold by massage. It can be an enjoyable part of a healthy lifestyle, and it can help to manage complications down the road. I personally believe that massage also puts us in touch with our selves by integrating the mind and body in a way nothing else can. People managing chronic diseases are often under physical and emotional stress and may have strong emotions tied to it. Massage is good for the body, and good for the soul, too.

Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage!





East Bay Massage: Suture Self! What’s that supposed to mean?

“Suture Self” is a concept that occurred to me in a moment of unadulterated nerdiness. It’s on all my business cards, frequent client cards, coupons, letterhead, gift certificates, etc.(Vistaprint is a dangerous, dangerous place….). I think it’s an important idea that might bear some explaining.  It came together as I pondered a few different ideas several weeks ago and as a result, has become the tagline for my business.

Concept 1: Anatomically speaking, the kinds of sutures I’m alluding to are cranial sutures. And no, they aren’t the nasty black stitches that stick out of your skin like bug’s legs when you get a nasty gash. Cranial sutures are the area between two cranial bones which is connected by ligament. Bones in the head fit together in several different ways, and because they are separated by ligament, do have some movement. If you think of the bones in your head like tectonic plates in the earth, you can imagine how two structures butt up against each other. If the bones in the cranium begin relating to each other in a way that is compressed, cramped, subluxated, or angled off in a weird way, it can create anatomical and energetic volcanoes, earthquakes, or new mountain ranges in the skull.

Huh? Bascially, if the bones of your head get out of alignment, it can create uncomfortable symptoms in there. Head injury, concussion, facial, eye, teeth grinding or clenching, or dental work can all contribute to a misalignment. This can effect the membranes that encase the brain, the way cerebral spinal fluid flows up and down the spine, and the way your nervous system functions. Some symptoms may include but are definitely not limited to: migraines, headaches, dizziness, neck or back ache, or emotional disturbance/discomfort.

Concept 2: Oftentimes, people struggle with justifying receiving bodywork. It is an expense that our culture and our present economy categorizes under the column of ‘want’ not ‘need.’ Sometimes it feels like people who receive body work must have extra money to throw around, and extra time. Or, perhaps more subconsciously, must be people who really think a lot of themselves to justify spending time and money on something as frivolous as relaxation. It’s a projection that people who afford bodywork really don’t mind taking up a lot of room for themselves, while the rest of us put everyone else first and do without, for the team.

Concept 3: There is a dirty little secret about bodywork. (No, not that.) It’s that moment of bliss after your session has ended, when the therapist leaves the room, and you are on the table, in total relaxation, still fully in the balmy glow of the session. For that moment, you don’t feel guilty about having taken the time or the money for yourself. You feel awesome. Like you’re having your cake and eating it, too. But what you might not appreciate at that moment is that your secret doesn’t have to be dirty! And it doesn’t have to be secret!

Bodywork feels good, sure. But, it’s also good for you. Go ahead! Take up some room! Suit yourself! You don’t feel this surrepticious after getting blood work, done, do you?

Concept 4: Bodywork, and especially craniosacral therapy, in my opinion, help people achieve their greatest version of health. Health looks a little different for each individual, but our bodies are all capable of finding greater balance. When we take a little time for self-care, we are more fully engaged with our lives, and by extension, becoming more fully our best selves. If our heads are on straight, we are better able to let go of dysfunction and embrace health that works. We begin to embody our Suture Self.

Suture Self is both a noun and an imperative. It is a way of describing ourselves in balance and harmony, and it is an encouragement to be that person who unapologetically takes a little time out for her/himself in order to do so, even if it feels self-serving. It’s a way of rewriting the concept that serving self is selfish or bad.

As the awesome Maurice Sendak said, “Live you life! Live your life! Live your life!”

Thanks for visiting East Bay Massage. I’m off to get some bodywork!

East Bay Massage: PMS

Mmmkay, ladies. And gentlemen. We’ve all been through it at one time or another. The cramping. The bloating. The sudden, inexplicable extra weight (or else the sudden, inexplicable appearance of someone else’s tiny pants in your closet… whose are these, anyways?!). The near-fatal rage. The neurotic suspicion that no one actually likes you, cares about your welfare or your time, or holds you in esteem, afterall… did I mention the rage? Gah, or the cramps?

Ah, PMS.

We all remember from sex ed in sixth grade that the lining in the uterus thickens as we approach our period. During this time, estrogen and progesterone levels are rising. As the lining sheds, these levels plummet, and it is believed that this sudden hormonal drop-off messes with our minds and bodies. It’s also postulated that environmental estrogens, found in animal fats and in toxic exposures, could cause the uterine lining to produce excessive amounts of estrogen and progesterone, or to become “overactive.” Lastly, it’s thought that plunging estrogen and progesterone levels could suppress the secretion of serotonin— a neurotransmitter related to depression and mood swings. Other opioid peptides related to mood seem to be negatively effected by hormone swings. This is essentially a neurotransmitter imbalance.

Massage helps ease the symptoms of depression. Calming the sympathetic nervous system, that part of us that activates the fight or flight response, is a universal benefit of massage. Massage helps promote the production of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin, all feel-good hormones, and depresses the expression of the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These stress hormones weaken the immune system, disrupt digestion, and interfere with tissue repair. Secondly, massage can help to ease lower back pain and cramps by softening the tissues and addressing the sacro-uterine ligament, which connects the neck of the uterus to the sacrum and may become taxed as the uterus enlarges before menstruation. Last, massage can help reduce bloating by directing some of the retained fluids back into the system and off of your hips. 🙂

Other lifestyle changes, like limiting animal fats, and making sure that your calcium, vitamin B6, and essential fatty acids are not running low may also help to reduce the symptoms of PMS.

Thanks for visiting East Bay Massage! Give yourself a break, get a massage! You’re gorgeous, and you deserve it.

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